What is Root Cause Analysis? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 Understanding Root…
  • 1:05 Data Collection
  • 1:37 Asking Why
  • 2:59 Identifying Solutions
  • 3:49 Implementing Change
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amber Dixon

Amber works with graduate students enrolled in a virtual program and has a Master's of Social Work degree.

This lesson will explain root cause analysis and discuss its relevance to project management. We will review the importance of understanding the problem, data collection, asking why questions, solutions, and implementing changes.

Understanding Root Cause Analysis

Most of us have attended meetings where the same problems find their way back to the agenda month after month. The root cause analysis is a quality improvement technique that helps address a problem to understand what is causing the problem. Project managers often use root cause analysis to prevent the problem from recurring.

It's key to have a strong understanding of the problem that needs improvement for successful change to be achieved. How can the problem be well understood? It's best done when collaborating with a team that has experience with the problem and an understanding of what contributes to the problem.

Let's look at an example. A health care organization was out of compliance with the expectation that it serve clients within seven calendar days after hospital discharge. In discussions, team members drilled down on the actual barrier to meeting the compliance standard. The main problem was a lack of notification from the hospital when mutual patients were admitted, let alone notification when patients were discharged from the hospital.

Data Collection

Data collection is a driving force of project management processes. The benefit of measuring data is the ability to understand the extent and severity of the problem. Data also helps to prioritize needs and further analyze the cause of the problem.

The health organization we discussed collected data and found that they were 20 percent compliant, compared with the standard of 100 percent compliance. Team members recognized that they needed a few months to improve, and that it would be unrealistic to expect perfect compliance right away.

Asking Why

In addition, project management involves the Five Whys analysis, which is defined as systematically identifying the root cause of the problem. It's critical to identify why the problem is recurring to figure out how it can be fixed. It's an easily understood process that is productive in many scenarios. This analysis helps to show the correlation of cause by repeatedly asking why.

The Five Whys begin with a problem statement. Let's look at an example.

  • Problem statement: You are on your way to work and you recall that you forgot to close the garage door.
  • First question: Why did you not close the garage door? Because I was in a hurry.
  • Second question: Why were you in a hurry? Because I woke up late.
  • Third question: Why did you wake up late? Because I did not hear the alarm.
  • Fourth question: Why did you not hear the alarm? Because I did not turn the alarm on.
  • Fifth question: Why did you not turn the alarm on? Because I took cold medicine that made me drowsy and I fell asleep in the living room.

The process of answering why after each question helps to identify and drill down to see the reasons that a problem occurs. In this example, we can see that the root cause for not closing the garage door when leaving the house was the result of taking cold medicine, which led to drowsiness and falling asleep in a place away from the alarm clock and, ultimately, overlooking securing the home when departing.

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